“I ran for class president at Fairhope High School in August because having a voice is important. I was a president or officer at several clubs at school and I planned to run for senior class president since I was in middle school. I was an advocate for the senior class. I was supposed to organize our senior barbeque and field day, but we didn’t get to have them. The last thing I did as president was to make a speech at graduation.
I had been thinking about the speech since August and started drafting it in January. It was originally about how much our class had to overcome. I rewrote it in March and included being proud of our community for caring about safety during the Coronavirus. Then the brutality happened and I rewrote the speech. This brutality could happen to my family or me, and it would have been irresponsible not to talk about it from a platform like this. Before the speech, I thought about how the parents and my peers would react, but I knew it needed to be said no matter how people felt. I was nervous and vulnerable speaking in front of such a big crowd. When it was over, I couldn’t look at anyone because I was scared to see their reaction. What was going to happen after the speech? Would it make a difference? Thankfully a lot of people received it, and I was proud that I could do something like this. I got many positive messages after it was over. I hope they take away from the speech that is time for change and for all of us to speak out.
I love Fairhope, but this is the most supported I have felt by my community during my 13 years of school. Growing up, Fairhope wasn’t diverse. Most of the people who looked like me were my family. The hardest and most rewarding part has been educating my peers. Sometimes people don’t want to listen. I started the black student union at the high school to be a positive influence in our community. We try to educate people and show them they don’t have to turn away from uncomfortable conversations. Things are changing right in front of us. It makes me hopeful for the future. This summer I want to participate in the protests and changes. I am going to speak with the mayor soon.
I grew up in Fairhope. On my dad’s side, my great-great grandfather moved here. It just hit me today that school is over and I will be leaving Fairhope soon. I am going to Howard University in Washington D.C. I am not sure of my major, maybe healthcare or law. I just want to help people.
I got my heart and strength from my mama. She is selfless and the best person I know. She teaches me I can’t live in fear. I want to change the community for her and show my younger sisters they can do this, too.”
“Her dad and I are so proud of her. She is teaching her sisters to be leaders. It is going to be hard to let her go. ”
From Ashanti’s graduation speech:
“No matter how much praise I receive or how many accolades I collect, some people will never be able to see beyond the color of my skin. Some of you may not understand why this resonates so deeply with me. The reality of this situation is every time an unarmed black person is killed in America, all I can think is it could have been my uncle. It could have been my cousin. It could have been my father. It could have been me. I don’t want to live in a world where someone feels unsafe for simply existing. This is our call to change. Our purpose as conscious beings is to improve the life of those around us. If we all find little ways to save the world, those small changes won’t go unnoticed.”